Bavarian Schafkopf

Players: 4
  24, 32

The national card game of Bavaria. A 4-player point-trick game using a 32-card or 24-card German suited pack in which Obers, Unters and Hearts are trumps and declarer chooses a partner by calling an Ace.

Class: Schafkopf Group

Related games: Asserufen (Schafkopf), Schafkopf (Palatinate), Schafkopf (Deutscher), Doppelkopf

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Region: Germany

Introduction

Schafkopf is a truly fascinating game that deserves wider recognition. It has been described as the “supreme discipline” of Bavarian card games and the “mother of all trump games” with as many as 14 trumps in play from a 32-card pack. Played by an estimated 2½ million people in south Germany, it has risen to become Bavaria’s national game and part of its cultural heritage. It is most at home in the pub and in family and social circles.

Its origins go back to an 18th century game, also called Schafkopf, which was clearly well established by 1811 when Paul Hammer described no less than nine versions. Around the same time, classic Schafkopf was modified by adding features from Tarok and l’Hombre to produce Germany’s national game of Skat. Soon afterwards, another modification, probably influenced by l’Hombre’s four-hand derivative Quadrille, had resulted in yet another exciting new offshoot. This new game had taken off in Franconia (northern Bavaria) by the 1840s, but its earliest descriptions did not appear until the last decades of that century. These show that, instead of fixed partnerships with players bidding a number of potential trumps, they bid for the right to play one of two contracts: a Rufer, in which the winner of the bidding, the declarer, called an Ace whose holder became a secret partner; and a Solo in which the declarer named any suit as trumps and played alone. There were bonuses for winning by a landslide (Schneider) or for taking all the tricks. Moving southwards throughout Bavaria, the new game left all the competition in its wake, even holding off Skat. In 1989, the 1st Bavarian Schafkopf Congress agreed official rules for the first time.

The main description on this page is based on the current version (2007) of the official rules published by the Schafkopf School (Schafkopfschule) in Munich. They remain true to their 19th-century roots, except for an additional contract called Wenz in which only Unters are trumps. These ‘pure’ rules are widely used, especially in tournaments. However, in pubs and parlours, cafes and clubs, a plethora of local and regional variants is played in which the official rules have been elaborated and tailored to meet a variety of tastes and levels of challenge and skill. These variants are sometimes unkindly called ‘impure’ Schafkopf, but far from being inferior, they add to the variety that makes Bavarian Schafkopf such an enjoyable and interesting game.

This page is based mainly on a contribution from Paul Eaton.

Players, Cards and Objective

Schafkopf is played with traditional Bavarian cards of which three patterns are readily available: the Franconian pattern, which predominates in northern Bavaria, and two Bavarian designs – the Bavarian (Munich) pattern and its more fanciful Bavarian (Stralsund) sibling. They are all double-ended and larger than standard international cards, measuring 56 x 100 mm. The cards have German suits – Acorns (Eichel), Leaves (Gras), Hearts (Herz) and Bells (Schellen) – and are produced in 36-card “Schafkopf/Tarock” packs or 32-card “Schafkopf” packs. Note that the Aces are called Sows in Bavaria, however, the term Ace will be used here.

Bavarian pattern cards - 36-card deck
A pack of Bavarian (Munich) pattern cards (© ASS Altenburger)

In each suit there are 8 cards with the following point values: Ace/Sow (Sau) 11, Ten 10, King 4, Ober 3, Unter 2, Nine 0, Eight 0 and Seven 0. Thus there is a total of 120 points in the pack. The highest trumps or lords (Herren) are the Obers and Unters. All Obers beat all Unters and among themselves they rank in descending order of suit Acorns, Leaves, Hearts, Bells, so in descending order from left to right they are:

Acorn Ober, Leaf Ober, Heart Ober, Bell Ober, Acord Unter, Leaf Unter, Heart Unter, Bell Unter
Franconian pattern cards © ASS Altenburger

In the contract known as Wenz, only the Unters are lords.

The aim is to take as many card points in tricks as possible. The declarer must amass at least 61 card points to win; the defenders need 60 to win.

The so-called ‘pure’ version of Schafkopf is the form usually played in tournaments and the basis for all other varieties. It is played by four players. Deal, bidding and play are clockwise.

Deal

The dealer shuffles the pack and has it cut by the player to the right. There must be at least 3 cards in each packet. Beginning with forehand, the player to the dealer’s left, the dealer deals the cards four at a time in two rounds so that each player has a hand of eight cards.

Auction

There is a single round of bidding in which players bid for the following contracts (ranked in ascending order):

  • Rufer
  • Wenz
  • Solo
  • Wenz Tout
  • Solo Tout
  • Sie

The meaning of each contract is explained in the next section.

The principle is that whoever undertakes to play the highest contract becomes the declarer, and in the case of equality priority is given to the first player in clockwise order starting from the player to dealer's left (forehand) who has highest priority. The process is as follows.

Forehand opens the bidding and may “pass” (weiter) or call “I’ll play” (ich spiele) to play any contract. If forehand passes, the others, in turn, have the same options. Once a bid has been made, a later player may pass (i.e. accept it) by saying “good” (ist recht or spiel zu) or overcall it with “I’ll play too” (ich spiele auch) or “I also want to play” (ich würde auch spielen), which is an undertaking to play a contract higher than a Rufer.

Once a bid is overcalled, the two bidders must work out who has the higher contract without divulging unnecessary information. The process is as follows, where A is the first bidder and B the second:

  • If A only has a Rufer or wishes to drop out anyway, A passes with “good”
  • If A has more than a Rufer, A may hold by saying “I’ll play myself” (ich spiele selbst)
  • If A holds and B only has a Wenz or wishes to drop out of the bidding, B passes
  • If A holds but B has a Solo, B may respond with “I have a Solo” (ich hätte ein Solo) or “but not a Wenz” (aber keinen Wenz), whereupon A may pass or hold again.
  • If A continues to hold but B has a Wenz Tout or Solo Tout, B may respond with “I have a Tout” (ich hätte einen Tout).

Essentially, if two players have the same contract, the earlier player has priority and may hold. Once A and B have resolved who has a higher level contract, the next player must either overcall or pass and so on. It is uncommon for more than two players to have a viable contract.

The auction ends when everyone has had a chance to speak and the highest contract is established.

If all pass, the cards are thrown in and the next dealer deals afresh.

Contracts

Rufer (Rufer, Rufspiel or Sauspiel).

In a Rufer the declarer, the player who bid the Rufer, plays with a partner against the other two players who are the defenders. The trump suit comprises the lords, ranking in the above order, followed by the remaining 6 Heart cards which rank in descending order A 10 K O U 9 8 7, making a total of 14 trumps. The non-trumps rank in Ace-Ten order within each suit i.e. A > 10 > K > 9 > 8 > 7. The lords are always trumps and never part of their natural suit. So if the Ober of Leaves is led, players must play a trump (i.e. an Ober, an Unter or a Heart) if able. Likewise if a Heart is led, players must follow suit with an Ober, Unter or Hearts if able. If a non-trump such as the Nine of Leaves is led and a player has the Ober and Ten of Leaves, the Ten must be played because the Ober is a trump and not part of the suit of Leaves.

Before play begins, the declarer calls a non-trump Ace in a suit in which he or she has at least one card (not the Unter or Ober) and the player with the called Ace becomes the declarer’s partner, but must not reveal this. A player who holds all three non-trump Aces is not allowed to bid a Rufer, as there is no card they would be able to call.

The declarer calls for the Ace using the words “I’m playing with the Ace of Acorns/Leaves/Bells” (ich spiele mit der Alten/Blauen/Bumbs) or “I’m playing with the Acorn/Leaf/Bell Sow” (Eichel-, Gras-, Schellen-Sau).

Wenz

In a Wenz the declarer plays alone against the other three players who play as a team. Only the four Unters are trumps and they rank in descending order: Acorns – Leaves – Hearts – Bells. The remaining cards form four separate 7-card suits, none of which is a trump suit. The Obers become ordinary suit cards ranking between the King and the Nine. Thus the suits rank in descending order as follows: A 10 K O 9 8 7.

Solo

In a Solo the declarer plays alone against the other three players as a team, and may choose any suit as trumps provided the declarer has at least one card of the nominated suit (in addition to any Obers and Unters). Upon winning the auction the Solo bidder becomes the declarer and names trumps by saying “Acorn Solo” (Eichel-Solo), “Leaf Solo” (Gras-Solo), “Heart Solo” (Herz-Solo) or “Bell Solo” (Schellen Solo). The cards of the chosen trump suit rank below the lords in the same way that the Hearts rank in a Rufer, so as usual there are 14 trumps and 6 cards in each of the other suits.

Tout

This is a commitment to take all 8 tricks in a Wenz or Solo contract, which is then announced as “Wenz Tout” or “Solo Tout”. The announcement must be made before the first card is led. If the opponents win a trick, the game is lost.

Sie

A player who is dealt all four Obers and four Unters lays the hand down on the table and wins without further ado. Traditionally the cards are never used again and the 8 cards are mounted, framed and hung up on the wall near the where the feat was achieved. The odds against a Sie being dealt are around 10 million to 1.

Play

Once the auction is over and the contract confirmed, forehand (the player to dealer's left) leads a card to the first trick. The following players in turn and in clockwise order each play a card. Players must follow suit if able; otherwise may play any card (except the called Ace in a Rufer - see below). There is no requirement to head the trick nor to play a trump if unable to follow suit.

Each trick is won by the highest trump in it or by the highest card of the led suit if no trumps are played. The four-card trick is stored face down in front of the winner, who then leads a card to the next trick. In a Wenz or Solo, the defenders may keep their tricks in a common pile.

If the contract is a Rufer the called Ace must be played to the first trick in which its suit is led, even if the trick has already been trumped by an opponent. The holder of the called Ace may lead it to any trick if he has the lead. If the called suit has not been led, it is illegal to throw the called Ace on a lead of a different suit, except in the last trick when no other cards are held. There is one exception to these rules. If the holder of the called Ace has at least 3 other cards of the called suit and obtains the lead before the called suit has been led, they may run away (davonlaufen) from the called Ace by leading a lower card of that suit. Therefore if the called suit is led for the first time and the Ace does not appear, all players know that the leader has the Ace and has run away. After running away, the holder of called Ace is free to discard it on a trick in another suit if unable to follow suit.

The most recent trick may be reviewed by any player until the next trick has been laid away.

Doubling

A defender who has a strong hand may double the game value by calling “Stoss” or “Spritzn” before the second card is played to the first trick. The declarer may respond immediately with “Retour” which doubles the game value again.

Scoring

At the end of the hand, players add up the card points in their tricks. In a Rufer, the declarer and declarer’s partner combine their points, as do the two defenders. In all games, the declarer needs 61 or more card points to win; the defenders win with 60 or more. If the declarer take 91 or more points or if the defenders take 90 or more points the result is "Schneider", for which the winning team receives an extra payment. If a side takes all 8 tricks, this is known as Schwarz and the winners are rewarded with a larger extra payment.

Schafkopf is traditionally played for low stakes which are paid at the end of each deal. However, chips may be used instead of cash and in tournaments the score is kept on paper by recording plus and minus values representing the amount each player has won or lost.

In a Rufer, each of the two losers pays the game value and any bonuses to one of the winners. In a Solo, the declarer collects the value of the game plus any bonuses from each defender if the game is won or pays the same to each defender if it is lost.

Rates vary and are usually expressed in cents in the form X/Y meaning X cents for a Rufer and Y cents for a Wenz or Solo. The extra payment for Schneider is equal to the score for a Rufer (X), and in case of Schwarz this extra payment is doubled (2*X). A Wenz Tout or Solo Tout is worth twice as much as a normal Wenz or Solo and bonuses for Schneider and Schwarz are ignored.

The official rules use 10/50, which results in payments as in the table below. These are the amounts won from or lost to each opponent of the bidder.

Contract Card points or tricks won by the bidding team
no tricks
(Schwarz)
0-30
(Schneider)
31-60 61-90 91-120
(Schneider)
all tricks
(Schwarz)
Rufer lose 30 ¢ lose 20 ¢ lose 10 ¢ win 10 ¢ win 20 ¢ win 30 ¢
Wenz lose 70 ¢ lose 60 ¢ lose 50 ¢ win 50 ¢ win 60 ¢ win 70 ¢
Solo lose 70 ¢ lose 60 ¢ lose 50 ¢ win 50 ¢ win 60 ¢ win 70 ¢
Wenz Tout lose 1.00 € win 1.00 €
Solo Tout lose 1.00 € win 1.00 €

Runners (Laufende)

In addition to the above payments, the winning team can claim an additional payment if either team held an unbroken sequence of top trumps in their combined hands. These are known as runners (Laufende), and are analogous to the matadors in Skat. In a Rufer or Solo, the payment for runners can be claimed if either side held 3 or more consecutive top trumps (i.e. at least the Obers of Acorns, Leaves and Hearts), up to a theoretical maximum of 14. In a Wenz, the winners can claim runners if either side had 2 or more top trumps (i.e. at least the Unters of Acorns and Leaves) up to a maximum of 4 trumps.

The payment for each runner is generally equal to the payment for a Rufer, i.e. X cents is the stakes are X/Y. So with 10/50 stakes the winners are paid an extra 10 ¢ for each trump in the sequence. Note that it is up to the winners to claim this extra payment. If they do not notice or forget that it is due, it cannot be claimed after the next hand has been dealt.

Doubles

If the game has been doubled by a defender calling Stoss or Spritzn, all payments are doubled. If Retour was called as well all payments are quadrupled instead of doubled.

Examples

  1. B announces a Rufer “with the Ace of Bells” who is C. They win with Schneider, and have 5 runners between them (four Obers and the Unter of Acorns). A pays B 70 ¢ (10 ¢ for game, 10 ¢ for Schneider and 50 ¢ for runners) and C pays D 70 ¢.
  2. C wins the auction and announces a “Leaf Solo”, but loses singly. She had 3 runners (the Obers of Acorns, Leaves and Hearts). She pays 80 ¢ to each opponent (50 ¢ for game and 3 x 10 ¢ for runners).
  3. A calls a Rufer “with the Ace of Leaves” who is D. They win all eight tricks but had no runners as A held the Ober of Hearts. B pays A 30 ¢ (10 ¢ for game and 20 ¢ for Schwarz) and C pays D 30 ¢.
  4. C wins the auction and announces a Wenz Tout, but D doubles with “Stoss”. C wins all the tricks and held two runners: (Unters of Acorns and Leaves). Each opponent pays her €2.40 (1.00 ¢ for the Wenz Tout plus 20 ¢ for runners, all doubled for the Stoss). 

Tactics

It is generally accepted that in a Rufer an opponent of the declarer should begin by leading the called suit, to which the declarer's partner will have to play the Ace. This will clarify the partnerships, but more importantly the declarer's other opponent may be able to trump the Ace. Even though the chance of the Ace being trumped is less than 50%, the advantage gained by the defenders when it happens outweighs the disadvantage of handing the initiative to the declarer's team if the called Ace wins the trick. Leading the called suit obviously becomes less attractive after the declarer's team has played a few rounds of trumps, as an opponent who is void in the suit may then have run out of trumps. For this reason the declarer's team will normally begin by playing trumps.

As in any partnership point-trick game, an important tactic is ‘smearing’ i.e. when unable to follow suit, playing an Ace or Ten to the trick if you think it will be won by your partner or co-defender. Equally, if the trick is likely to go to the opponents, a player may slough (discard a low value card of another suit) if unable to follow suit. Players may also aim void a suit in order to be able to trump it when it is led.

Variants

Outside of tournaments, the way Schafkopf is played varies widely from region to region. These variants are sometimes referred to as ‘impure’ Schafkopf (unreiner Schafkopf), which does not mean that they are necessarily inferior. They are mostly ways to add extra variety to the game. They are always built on the foundation of ‘pure’ Schafkopf, but with additional contracts and features. In effect, players can choose the level of complexity they want and fine tune the element of chance.

To avoid misunderstandings, Schafkopf players assume the basic rules of pure Schafkopf and state the differences e.g. “with Geier, Suit Geier and Suit Wenz, tariff 10 / 50 cents” or “with Geier and Bettel, tariff 5 / 20 cents.” If you are new to a Schafkopf circle, it is important to clarify at the start which variants are being played.

Stakes

A common alternative tariff is 5/10, that is 5 ¢ for a Rufer and 10 ¢ for a Wenz or Solo. With this tariff the payments in the examples would be 1: 35¢, 2: 25¢, 3: 15¢, 4: 60¢.

The payment for runners adds a degree of randomness to the scores as it often outweighs the reward for winning. To mitigate this some groups use a triple tariff in which runners score less in comparison to the game. For example 10/20/50 would mean that 10 ¢ would be paid for each runner and for Schneider, 20 ¢ for Rufer and Schwarz and 50 ¢ for Wenz and Solo. Some players prefer to exclude payments for runners to altogether to maximise the skill factor.

Legen
Legen (laying) is an additional method of doubling the stakes. In a game with Legen any player can double the stakes during the deal after seeing just four of their cards. During the deal, any player may, after picking up and looking at their first packet of 4 cards, say “double” (ich doppel) or “laying” (ich leg). Legen is often indicated by placing a marker or a coin on the table in front of the player.
Each Legen doubles all the payments for the deal - so for example if three players legen all payments are multiplied by 8.
It is acceptable for the dealer to look at their second packet of four cards instead of their first to decide whether to legen. This is simply because it is more convenient for the dealer to complete the deal and look at the last four cards rather than interrupt the deal to look at their first four cards before continuing.
Some play a milder form of Legen where only forehand can double the stake in this way, or an intermediate version where players other than forehand can only legen if all previous players have gelegt.

Short Schafkopf

In northeastern Bavaria, especially the Upper Palatinate and Upper Franconia, ‘short’ or ‘sharp’ Schafkopf is popular. This is the same as normal Schafkopf but with only 24 cards – the Sevens and Eights being omitted – and each player receives 6 cards. The rules are the same but game is faster and tactics slightly different because of the changed distribution of trumps and non-trumps, leaving just four cards A 10 K 9 in each non-trump suit. Sometimes the Nines are also removed, leaving 20 cards in the game and hands of 5 cards each.

Data from 2009 shows that at that time well over half the games played on the popular online site sauspiel.de were with 24 cards rather than 32.

Bidding Process

This is sometimes quite informal, but the basic principles are always the same.

  1. Whoever undertakes to play the highest contract becomes the declarer.
  2. If two players want to play the same contract (or equal ranked contracts) the first of those players in clockwise rotation starting from the dealer's left has priority.
  3. During the auction, players only reveal enough information to establish who will become declarer.
  4. At the end of the auction the declarer announces the contract which must be at least as high as the final contract mentioned in the auction and may be higher.

Additional Contracts

The most common additional contracts are Suit Wenz, Geier, Suit Geier, Bettel and Hochzeit. These will be described first.  A tariff of 10/50 cents is assumed.

Suit Wenz
The four Unters are lords in addition to the cards of a suit chosen by the declarer. Thus there are 11 trumps in the game: the four Unters, in the order, Acorns – Leaves – Hearts – Bells, and then the cards of the trump suit in the order, A 10 K O 9 8 7. The other suits have 7 cards: A 10 K O 9 8 7. Runners are paid when one team has a sequence of 2 or more top trumps.
Geier
This is analogous to a Wenz, but In a Geier only the four Obers are trumps. The Unters become ordinary suit cards ranking between the King and the Nine. The Obers rank in the order: Acorns – Leaves – Hearts – Bells and each of the four suits ranks A 10 K U 9 8 7.
Suit Geier
Equivalent to Suit Wenz, except that the Obers instead of the Unters are the lords, heading the 11-card trump suit.
Bettel
A negative game in which the declarer undertakes to lose every trick. In the auction Bettel ranks as the lowest of the games in which the declarer plays alone. There is a fixed payment for Bettel which may be equal to a Solo, or less than a Solo but more than a Rufer, for example 20 or 30 cents. There are several variants of the card ranking and the rules of play.
  • Some play it just like a Null in Skat. There are no trumps and cards rank in each suit rank from high to low A K O U 10 9 8 7. As usual players must follow suit if they can.
  • Some introduce an additional rule of play that when following suit each player must if possible beat the highest card so far played to the trick.
  • Some give the first lead to the declarer rather than to forehand. When combined with the rule requiring players to overtake, this enables the declarer to get rid of one high cards (though not an Ace) by leading it to the first trick so that some opponent will be forced to overtake it.
  • Some play with Hearts as trumps and the ranking and the rules of play exactly as in a Rufer or Heart Solo.
Wedding (Hochzeit)
Whether or not anyone has bid or not, a player dealt only one trump may place it face down in the middle of the table, announcing e.g. “who’s playing a Wedding with me?” (wer spielt mit mir Hochzeit?).  Players may reject the offer by saying e.g. “not with me” (ohne mich or nicht mit mir) or accept it with “I’ll take it” (ich nehme an), “with me” (mit mir) “I’m with you” (ich bin dabei) or bid a higher contract. If two players are interested in a Wedding, positional priority applies. Unless someone has bid a solo game, the acceptor picks up the trump and passes another card, face down, to the player who announced the wedding in exchange. They then play as declarers against the other two, the rules being as in a Rufer but without a called Ace. The game ranks above a Rufer but below all solo contracts. If no-one accepts, everyone scores zero and the next dealer deals.
In some circles, Hochzeit is part of the normal bidding process and called in the same way as a solo contract; a Hochzeit bidder who wins the auction offers the Hochzeit and players speak in order beginning with forehand.
Comment: only a player with at least five trumps and the potential to void a suit should accept the offer.

The ranking of the additional contracts varies, but the following is typical:

  • Rufer
  • Hochzeit (marriage)
  • Bettel
  • Suit Geier
  • Suit Wenz
  • Geier
  • Wenz
  • Solo
  • Geier Tout
  • Wenz Tout
  • Solo Tout
  • Sie

Other contracts are occasionally seen, including Kaiser (also called König, Keni, Krone, Habicht, Adler, Hühnergeier or Bart), which is the same as a Wenz except that the four Kings are the lords, and Eisenbahner, in which the Tens are lords. As a general rule, the higher the point value of the cards chosen as lords, the lower the contract ranking. It has been suggested that this is because contracts in which the lords have a higher point value are easier to win. Likewise, suit contracts rank below their natural (suitless) equivalents because they are generally easier.

Avoiding Passed Out Hands

Ramsch
As in Skat, a Ramsch may be played if all four players pass. This avoids having to redeal the pack and adds an interesting diversion from the normal game. There are the the same 14 trumps as in a Rufer (the Obers, Unters and all the Hearts). As in a Rufer players must follow suit and if unable may play any card - there is no obligation to beat the highest card in the trick. There are no partners - everyone plays for themselves and the aim is to avoid taking counting cards in tricks. The player with the most points in their tricks is the loser and pays the basic stake (e.g. 10 cents in a 10/50 game) to each of the other three players. Ties may be resolved as follows.
  • If two or more players tie for most points, whichever of them has more tricks is the loser.
  • If players tie for most points and for most tricks, whichever of them has most trumps in their tricks is the loser.
  • If players tie for most points, most tricks and most trumps, whichever of them has the highest trump in their tricks is the loser.
For every player who avoided taking a trick, i.e. was Jungfrau (“virgin”), the loser's payment is doubled, so for example if two players are without tricks, the loser must pay 4× the basic stake to each other player.
Some play that (as in Skat), a player who takes all the tricks in a Ramsch wins a Durchmarsch (or Mord) and is paid an agreed amount by each opponent.
Stock
If Ramsch is not played, many follow the custom that the last player announces “Stock” whereupon each player places an agreed amount, e.g. 10 cents, into a pot as a sweetener to be collected and shared by the next players to win a Rufer. However, if the declaring team lose the Rufer they have to double the Stock between them. This is in addition to the regular payment for the game.
Muss-Spiel
In this variant, commonly played in tournaments, if all four players pass the holder of the Ober of Acorns has to play a Rufer. In this case no Stoss (Kontra) is allowed and the declarer's team needs only 60+ points to win (90+ to win with Schneider, 30+ to avoid losing with Schneider).
If the holder of the Acorn Ober has no non-trump suit without the Ace they are in this case allowed to call a suit in which they are void (Renonce) and must announce that they are doing so. If that is also impossible because the declarer holds the Acorn Ober and all three non-Heart Aces then in this case only they must call a non-trump Ten that they do not hold, or a King if they hold the Acorn Ober and the A-10 of all three non-trump suits.

Special Rounds

A feature of pub Schafkopf is the special rounds which may occur either after various events such as a lost Solo or at the end of the evening. Each of these rounds consists of four deals, one by each player, played under special rules. Some examples follow.

Bock
A Bock round is a round of 4 deals in which all payments are automatically doubled. Players may agree that a Bock round begins immediately after events such as a game ending 60-60 or Schwarz, or where a player loses when playing alone. Players may agree that Bock rounds overlap (so that payments are quadrupled when a new Bock round begins before the end of the previous one) or are sequential (so that a special event during a Bock round causes a new Bock round immediately after the end of the currently scheduled Bock rounds, and several special events occurring within a few deals can cause a queue of future Bock rounds to be accumulate).
Kreuz
A Kreuz (“cross”) round may be played after a Solo. Cards are dealt face up one by one until two players have received an Ace, and these two form a partnership against the other two players. Trumps are the same as in a Rufer and the players with the Aces need at least 61 points to win, 91 for Schneider, etc. In some places Kreuz is played with the players sitting opposite as partners instead of dealing for Aces.
Schieber
A Schieber (“pusher”) round may be played after e.g. a Tout. The Obers of Acorns and Leaves are extracted and the remaining cards are dealt as usual, except that the dealer only has 6 cards. The top two lords are first offered to forehand, then if forehand does not want them to the other players in clockwise order. A player who accepts these lords is committed to play a suit Solo. They discard any two unwanted cards and pass them to the player to their left who takes them and in turn discards two cards passed to the following player, and so on around the table until dealer receives two cards, to make up an eight-card hand. The cards passed on by a player may include cards received from the previous player. When all players have 8 cards, the player who accepted the top lords announces the suit of their Solo. If none of the first three players accepts the lords, the dealer may either take the two lords and play a suit Solo without discarding any cards or throw in the cards, in which case there is no score and the next player deals.
Teufel
In a Teufel (“devil”) round, forehand is given the Obers of Acorns, Leaves and Bells and the Unter of Acorns (i.e. the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th highest trumps) and must announce a Solo in a suit before seeing any other cards.

Other Variants

Klopfen
Klopfen (knocking) by the cutter means that the direction of deal and number of cards to be dealt will be changed as specified by the cutter. A coin is laid to indicate that the game value is doubled. If all pass, the knocking does not count.
Bierkopf
This simple variant from Franconia is a good option for players wanting to learn Schafkopf from scratch. It may be played with 24 or 32 cards. The four players form fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other and play as described in the Rufer contract above with the Obers, Unters and Hearts as permanent trumps. A team needs 91 points to win Schneider. A deal in which each team takes 60 points is undecided, and the winners of the following deal win an extra stake. It is often played for beer in litre (2 pint) jugs called Steins, hence the name.

Three-Hand Schafkopf

Three-hand Schafkopf can be played with 24 cards, omitting the 8's and 7's, each player receiving 8 cards. Only solo contracts can be played.

Two-Hand Schafkopf

Like many other games, Schafkopf can be adapted in various ways to be played by two players. Much of the character of the real game is lost, but these games can be useful as practice for beginners to get used to the ranking order of the cards. The first of the versions below is modelled on a well-known two-player adaptation of Skat.

Officers’ Schafkopf
This game many alternative names such as Farmers' Schafkopf (Bauernschafkopf), Officers' Regalia (Offiziersschmuck), Open Schafkopf (Aufgelegter or Aafglegta Schafkopf), Oilhead (Ölkopf) and Robbers' Schafkopf (Räuber-Schafkopf).
The dealer deals one row of 4 face-down cards to each player, and then a row of 4 face up cards on top of the non-dealer’s downcards. The non-dealer must then choose a trump suit to play the equivalent of a suit Solo or a Wenz. The dealer then deals 4 upcards on top of his or her first row then another face-down row of 4 each, followed by a final face-up row each, so that each player has two rows each of 4 downcards and every downcard has an upcard on top of it. Forehand begins by leading any upcard. Rules of play are as usual: a player who has a card of the suit led among their face-up cards may follow suit. As soon as a card is played the card beneath it (if any) is turned face up and becomes playable in future tricks. The non-dealer needs at least 61 points to win and receives or pays 1 unit for game, 2 for Schneider or 3 for Schwarz. There are several variants.
  • In the simplest version Hearts are always trumps, as in a Rufer or Heart Solo. Forehand therefore does not have to choose a game: the cards are simply dealt and played.
  • Forehand may be allowed extra options such as Wenz instead of a suit Solo.
  • The dealer may be allowed to Spritz'n (double) after seeing their first four face-up cards.
  • The last 16 cards may be dealt to the players' hands rather than to the table. In this case in each trick players may play a card either from their hand or from the table, and the second player to a trick must follow suit if able to do so from either place.
Vicar’s Schafkopf
Another two-hand variant is Vicar’s Schafkopf (Pfarrerschafkopf). The Sevens and Eights are removed so the pack is reduced to 24 cards. Each player is dealt 8 hand cards and 4 more in a face down pile. The the cards in the piles are not used in the play, but their points count to the owner at the end. The non-dealer announces a contract – Geier, Wenz or Solo – and may be overcalled (Solo is highest, Geier lowest). The declarer leads and may be contra’d.

Other Types of Schafkopf

Different versions of Schafkopf are played in other regions of Germany, notably in the Palatinate where in addition to three-player Schafkopf with 32 cards and a 4-player variant (Asserufen) that similar to the Bavarian game, in a few places they also play Bauernstoss, a surviving descendant of classic German Schafkopf. Close relatives of Schafkopf are also played in various other European countries - see the Schafkopf group page for some examples. In the nineteenth century Schafkopf was taken to the USA by German emigrants, where it became Sheepshead, several versions of which are still popular in Wisconsin and other states with a significant population of German descent.

Tanno Gerritsen reports that in the village of Aichstetten in the southeast of Baden-Würtemmburg Schafkopf is played counter-clockwise, but otherwise so far as we know according to the normal Bavarian rules.

Impure Schafkopf Examples

Paul Eaton has provided two specific examples of impure versions of Schafkopf. In summary, they are as follows.

Langendorf Schafkopf

This is a 32-card game. There are nine possible contracts ranking as follows: Rufer < [Wenz = Geier] < Bettel < Solo < [Wenz Tout = Geier Tout] < Open Bettel < Solo Tout.

In the auction, first all four players speak in turn, saying whether they want to play a contract, and then if there are two or more bidders they give further information to establish which contract will be played. Note that since Wenz and Geier are equal in rank, if one player wants to play each of these contracts, the player nearer to dealer's left in clockwise order has priority; the same for Wenz Tout vs Geier Tout.

During the deal, any player may double the stake ("legen") by laying a coin (a "Doppler") on the table after seeing only their first four cards. If no one doubles in this way the hand is thrown in, a Hausbock or Hausdoppler is laid on the table and the next player deals. If – again – no one lays, the cards are thrown in once more and another Hausbock is laid and so on. The Hausbocks are played off one at a time: each Hausbock doubles the stakes for one deal that is played, in addition to any Doppler laid by the players.

In Bettel and Open Bettel, hearts are trumps as in an ordinary Rufer and the declarer must lose every trick. The player to dealer's left leads first and there is no requirement to overtake. An Open Bettel (aufgelegter Bettel) is the same except that the declarer's cards are laid face up on the table after the first trick.

After a Solo a Cross Round (Kreuzrunde) is played in which the players sitting opposite are partners.

Any one opponent of the declarer can double the stake by placing a Doppler just before playing to the first trick. If this happens the declarer (or partner in a Rufer) can redouble by placing a Doppler just before playing to the second trick. In case of a redouble an opponent can respond with a further double, and in theory this can continue throughout the play, the two sides doubling alternately on each trick. In practice, however, doubles very rarely continue beyond the first or at most the second trick, since by that time it is very unlikely that both teams would continue to be confident of winning. To prevent the remote danger of unmanageably large wins and losses following a chain of doubles, the players impose a maximum limit of €4 on wins and losses. Presumably this means that a lone player can in fact win or lose up to €12, paying or receiving €4 to or from each opponent.

If all pass, a Ramsch is played in which hearts are trumps as in a Rufer and the player who takes most points loses. The player to dealer's left leads and there is no obligation to overtake. During the first trick each player has the opportunity to double the stake by laying a Doppler just before they play their card. After the first trick no more doubles are allowed. Taking at least 101 points is a breakthrough (Durchbruch) and wins the Ramsch. If “Breakthrough” is announced on playing a card to the third trick, the announcer needs only 91 points to win. A player scoring fewer than 31 points is Schneider and one taking no tricks is Schwarz; in each case they are paid the relevant bonus by the loser.

In the scoring, the declarer's team needs only 90 or more points to win with Schneider. The tariff is 5/15, with Ramsch and Kreuz costing 5 cents like a Rufer, Wenz, Geier and Bettel costing 15 cents like a Solo, and Open Bettel and Tout costing double (30 cents). Because of the Doppler, in practice the stakes will always be at least doubled, and quite often quadrupled or more.

Schierling Schafkopf

This is a 24-card game. There are nine possible contracts contracts ranking in ascending order are: Sauspiel, Hochzeit, Geier (also called Dame), Wenz, Solo, Geier Tout, Wenz Tout, Solo Tout and Sie. A Sie just consists the 4 Obers plus the Unters of acorns and leaves, so is less rare than in 32-card Schafkopf, but still requires the cards to be framed and displayed.

A player with one trump may bid a Hochzeit by pushing their trump, face down, into the middle of the table before the auction. In turn, players may refuse the offer or accept it by saying “Interested” (Interesse or ich hab’ Interesse). If no one is interested and no one overcalls with a Geier or better, then a round of bidding follows in which a player can undertake a Sauspiel (i.e. Rufer).

If all pass, the cards are thrown in, each player adds 20 cents to the Stock (or Pot) and the next player deals. When a Sauspiel is played the declarer's team share the contents of the pot if they win but double it if they lose, but if the Stock contains more than €4 the players of declarer's team collect only Hochzeit each from it if they win or pay €2 each to it if they lose.

The tariff is 10/20/50 with a special rate of 1 euro for Hochzeit. When a Tout is bid the Schneider and Schwarz bonuses are paid as well (and doubled along with the game score), so a Solo Tout is worth €1.40 from each opponent plus 20 cents each for the runners if any, and a Sie costs €2.60 each including the 6 runners.

Further Information

More on the cards

The Ace was dropped from German packs during the 16th century, so the cards marked “A” in a Schafkopf pack are really Deuces, hence the double suit symbol. In Bavaria and Austria the Aces in German-suited packs are called Sows, because wild boars used to be depicted on them. Today only the Ace of Bells in a Franconian or Bavarian pack portrays a boar.
The Tens are nicknamed Eisenbahner (railwayman) which may be because the Ten was once called a Banner or because its appearance loosely resembles a railway track.
Geier means “vulture” and is also a nickname for the Ober. Geier is also called Jäger (hunter) in places.

Schafkopf also used to be played with Württemberg pattern cards, but these are now only produced in packs of 2 x 24 for Gaigel and Binokel.

Bibliography

Classic Bavarian Schafkopf

  • Jups. Mangold (1884). Der gewandte Kartenspieler: 2. Der Schaffkopf: ein geistreiches Kartenspiel. Würzburg: Stahel. Earliest rules for Bavarian Schafkopf; rediscovered in 2022.
  • "Obsis" (1895). Schafkopf-Büchlein - Detailliche Anleitung zum Lernen und Verbessern des Schafkopfspiel mit deutschen Karten, Amberg (Oberpfalz); until recently thought to be the oldest rules.
  • Schaffer, Georg (1956). Schafkopf und Tarock. Minden (Westphalia): Albrecht Philler.

Modern Bavarian Schafkopf

  • Grupp, Claus D. (1994) Doppelkopf Schafkopf. Niedernhausen: Falken.
  • Peschel, Wolfgang (1990). Bayerisch Schaffkopfen: Wissenswertes - Humoriges - Offizielle Spielregeln, 2nd edn. Weilheim: Stöppel. Covers the history and culture of Schafkopf as well as the earlier version of the official rules and details of ‘impure’ Schafkopf.
  • Merschbacher, Adam (2009). Schafkopf: Das anspruchsvolle Kartenspiel. Munich: Pliz. Up to date official rules as well as coverage of impure Schafkopf, history, tactics and even probabilities and statistics.

Online Resources

Here is a link to the Schafkopf School which has all kinds of information about the game, including rules in both German and English.

Jospeh Wiesegger's free eBook on Schafkopf has a wealth of information on the game, its tactics and variants.

Players in North America can obtain Bavarian Schafkopf cards from TaroBear's Lair.

The largest web site for playing Schafkopf on line, with over 80,000 users in spring 2009, is Sauspiel where you can play for fun or real money. (The basic and most common contract in Bavarian Schafkopf is one in which the bidder calls an ace, whose holder becomes his partner. The aces in the Bavarian pack are known as Säue - sows - hence the name of the site.)

Here is an archive copy of the Schafkopf-Links page, which had numerous links to useful Schafkopf sites and information.

Software

You can download Michael Fischer's Schafkopf computer program for Windows from his Cutesoft Page.

From Uwe Rasche's page you can obtain his Schafkopf program.

Schafkopfpalast is a cross-platform multiplayer Schafkopf app which allows users of Android, iOS and Facebook to play together. The website is in German but a complete English language version is available.

Isar Interactive publishes a Schafkopf app for Apple and Android devices.

Acknowledgements

Photographs of Bavarian and Franconian pattern cards are by Paul Eaton and appear by kind permission of ASS Altenburger who own the copyright to the cards.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © Paul Eaton, John McLeod, 2023. Last updated: 1st February 2024

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